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OpenAI, the startup that captured the world’s attention with ChatGPT, is once again setting its sights on developing robots. The San Francisco-based startup recently invested in a Norway-based robotics startup called 1x. Previously known as Halodi Robotics, the startup builds humanoid robots capable of human-like movements and behaviours.
Interestingly, OpenAI also had an in-house robotic division, but in 2021, the startup scrapped it completely and decided to direct its resources towards AI research instead. Now, with 1X, is OpenAI reigniting its interest in robots?
While OpenAI is focused on achieving artificial general intelligence (AGI), 1x is interested in exploring the potential of AI embodied in a human-like form. According to Brad Lightcap, chief operating officer at OpenAI, 1x is at the forefront of augmenting labour through the use of safe, advanced technologies in robotics.
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The startup, which recently raised USD 23.5 million in a Series A2 funding round led by OpenAI Startup Fund, will use the funds to develop NEO, its newest android iteration.
Founded in 2014 and headquartered in Norway, the startup currently makes a wheeled humanoid robot called EVE. It will further use the funds to make EVE commercially available in Norway and North America.
Robotics and LLMs
Although the goal of developing human-like robots has been a persistent dream, it has proven to be a formidable challenge. Nevertheless, OpenAI may have the solution — LLMs.
Recently, Microsoft, the company which has invested USD 1 billion in OpenAI, found that LLM chatbot can be used to control drones and robots. Researchers from the Redmond-based company were able to give the robots commands in simple English, using ChatGPT’s NLP capabilities to transcribe them to code.
In a research paper titled ‘ChatGPT for Robotics’, researchers demonstrated a pipeline for applying ChatGPT to robotics tasks. The pipeline involves several prompting techniques such as free-form natural language dialogue, code prompting, XML tags, and closed-loop reasoning.
Robotic Embodiment for AGI?
While OpenAI remains focused on AGI development, within the research community, there is an ongoing discussion about whether the human embodiment is a prerequisite for achieving AGI.
Intrigued by this development, Chris Anderson, CTO at KittyHawk, tweeted, “One of the interesting questions is whether becoming ‘embodied’ (having senses and the ability to act in the physical world) could tip an AI into full AGI.”
Even though currently it’s unclear whether the human embodiment is necessary to achieve AGI, a section of researchers believe that embodied intelligence, or the ability to interact with the environment and perceive sensory information, is essential for developing AGI. As opposed to their views, there is also a section that believes that it may be possible to achieve AGI without a physical body. However, there is not enough research done to justify either of the two contrasting views.
If OpenAI is chasing AGI, its investment in 1x would make sense if it is ascertained that human embodiment is, in fact, a necessity for AGI.
OpenAI’s History with Robotics
Interestingly, OpenAI dismantled its robotics research team in 2021; however, prior to that, the startup invested heavily in robotics research. In 2019, OpenAI trained a robotic hand to solve a Rubik’s cube puzzle.
But OpenAI discontinued research in robotics due to a dearth of data. The same was confirmed by OpenAI co-founder Wojciech Zaremba in a Weights & Biases podcast.
According to him, building robots requires high computing capabilities. He believes there are two possibilities to successfully deploy robots. “One is to collect a lot of data. Another possibility is that we need powerful video models like that of powerful text models.”
With OpenAI’s investment, 1x could possibly get access to high compute power, thanks to OpenAI’s partnership with Microsoft. Further, GPT-4, the most advanced LLM so far, is multimodal. This means it can generate content from both image and text prompts. Interestingly, video could possibly be the next iteration of LLMs. This means, very soon, OpenAI might have all the resources at hand to build humanoid robots.
NEO vs Optimus: A Possibility?
1x is not the only startup making humanoid robots. Tesla, the autonomous vehicle firm, headed by Elon Musk, last year revealed Optimus, a conceptual general-purpose robotic humanoid.
Interestingly, Elon Musk was an early investor in OpenAI, when the company was founded in 2015. However, over time, Musk’s relationship with the co-founders of OpenAI went sour. In a recent podcast with Lex Fridman, OpenAI co-founder Sam Altman opened up about their relationship with Musk.
Now, with OpenAI’s investment in 1x, there is a possibility of the startup encountering Musk once again in the field of robotics as 1x sets foot in the North American market.